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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Taming Traffic on Mosholu Parkway

Mosholu Parkway is the edge between Norwood and Bedford Park. It is a wonderful greenspace, and it's socially active. Nevertheless, the traffic divides the neighborhoods and is always a source of concern for the residents who cross it. The parkway could become a safer and more enjoyable unifying feature for our neighborhoods if we just tamed the traffic. We can do this by reducing the speed limit and by redesigning the roadway to calm traffic while improving the landscape.

Let's start with the speed limit. While the citywide speed limit in New York City is 30 mph, on Mosholu Parkway it has been increased to 35 mph. I know 5 mph may not sound like much, it makes a huge difference. At faster speeds, it is more likely a driver will hit something, or somebody. That is because their ability to perceive pedestrians is lower, they have less control over the vehicle, and they need more distance to stop. Going 35 instead of 30 mph, a car can take an extra 50 feet to come to a stop.

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The risk of pedestrian injuries and death increases rapidly as speeds exceed 20 mph (that is why advocates are currently campaigning to reduce the citywide limit). A pedestrian hit at 35 mph is about two times as likely to die as a person struck by a vehicle going 30 mph.

It is worth asking what drivers would lose if we reduced the speed limit. Over the full 1.2 mile length of Mosholu Parkway from Gun Hill Road to Southern Boulevard, it would take a driver an extra 21 seconds if they had to slow down to 30 mph. That hardly seems worth the risk of killing somebody again. There is no reason Mosholu Parkway shouldn't be treated the same as other urban parkways in New York City like Eastern Parkway or Ocean Parkway. The only question is whether we should consider reducing the speed limit still further on all these parkways to ensure they are truly safe and humane places for the elderly and children who use their parkland.

Next, the intersections could be improved for pedestrians. The standard set of potential pedestrian improvements should be considered: enhanced crosswalk markings, yield-to-pedestrian signage, leading pedestrian intervals (if feasible), etc.

Finally, the geometry of the roadway itself should be reconsidered. Reducing the speed limit is not enough to effectively reign in vehicle speeds, so physical changes are important. It may be possible to narrow the lanes, and the traffic volumes seem moderate enough that some lanes can probably be removed entirely. This would reduce the extent of the paved surfaces, creating space for more landscaping and green stormwater infrastructure. This could also create opportunities to realign the roadways to increase the horizontal curves somewhat, helping to discourage speeding. Adding gentle curves would have the extra benefit of adding a more scenic quality to the parkway for drivers and walkers alike.

The long years of treating Mosholu Parkway as a speedway need to come to an end. It is a social space and an ecological landscape that can work better if we develop a shared vision for its improvement. What I find so exciting is that efforts to make traffic less of a threat can also support the broader goals of making Mosholu Parkway an even more attractive place.

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